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Zig-Zagging Trope
aka: Zig Zagged

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Sometimes, a trope is handled in a way that is, quite frankly, beyond our normal categorizations of subversion, aversion, Double Subversion, or inversion. Such tropes wind up as those rare complexities that can make the readers grin or shoot themselves due to being Mind Screwed too many times... Thus, the Zig-Zagging Trope.

Sometimes a Zig-Zagging trope is a product of overcomplication after it comes into play; anything involving a triple subversion makes the result a zig-zagging use of the trope. Sometimes, a trope is both inverted and played straight at the same time, which is also a Zig-Zagging trope.

It can also result from an attempt to Deconstruct a given trope by considering it thoroughly from every possible angle.

And sometimes the author is simply saying "Dance, trope, dance! Dance for my amusement!" before indulging in an Evil Laugh.

In other words, think of an example of this as any that is too screwy or complex to be one of the other Trope Tropes. As a rule of thumb, if someone cannot describe a use of a trope any better than "played with", it's likely this.

No relation to Zig Zag (2002), or the unrelated 2008 novel of the same name, or the even less related character seen in the webcomic Sabrina Online. Alternate title has nothing to do with a certain, infamous boss fight.


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  • One coupon commercial ran up and down with its entire concept. It opens with a couple talking about a website that helped their relationship, before revealing that it's talking about coupons. Then the guy says that he printed out some coupons to surprise his wife, then cuts to a shot of her jumping on him, at which point it cuts to them being interviewed for the commercial on the couch, with the wife saying "and that's how the twins were born," implying that they really were talking about sex now, then it pans out to show two bags of groceries, leading you to believe that's what they were talking about, at which point the husband says that it's good they can get coupons for diapers, leading back to the idea that it was talking about sex.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Does this with the All for Nothing trope in the final episodes of the series. Despite all the efforts he made at connecting with others, Shinji comes to feel betrayed and abandoned by everyone. Despite all their efforts at preventing Third Impact, the pilots failed because their superiors wanted them to fail in order to trigger their own, somewhat better version and turn the entire planet into a barren wasteland with humanity all but extinct. However, it was Shinji's efforts at connecting with others that led to Rei rejecting his father and instead turning the reins of Third Impact over to him, and it was Shinji's desire to see those people again that led him to stop the instrumentality of humanity. End result: the world ends up as a twisted wasteland; it's left with the hope of recovery as Shinji and Asuka return, giving a tiny step to reach each other out, and all humans can choose to re-embody if they really want to, but it's implied that the only ones who can resist the temptation have to be as fucked up as Shinji and Asuka. They may not have even had that much if Gendo's or SEELE's plans had gone through.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi does this with the concept of the Unwanted Harem. It starts out as one, but oh wait, he's Oblivious to Love, then a bunch of the cast fall in love with him anyway, but it doesn't count because he never reciprocates, unless it's unintentional, etc. It's still not entirely clear if the series is actually an Unwanted Harem or not.
    • Hell, it's not even clear whether the harem is unwanted! On one hand, he doesn't return any of the feelings at the moment, and probably won't for a while. One the other hand, he has become good friends with all the girls and a bunch more who aren't romantically interested in him, and does appreciate how much they are willing to help him. On the other hand, as Haruna and Chisame have pointed out, love triangles rarely work out well, and unless Negi goes for everyone (and there are a lot of them), a whole lot of them are going to be disappointed. On the other hand, this isn't just a straight romantic comedy but also an action/adventure fantasy as well, and Negi would not have gotten nearly as far as he had without all of these other characters backing him up. Zig Zagged Trope indeed...
    • It does the same thing with First Girl Wins, as there are about 5 girls who fit the criteria, and at least one of them could also qualify as the last girl. But of course, Negi didn't end up with any of them...
    • The Negi/Rakan fight is essentially a long string of Subverted Anti Climaxes combined with numerous instances of I Am Not Left-Handed. It's hard to tell whether the fight's conclusion is actually an Anti-Climax or not.
  • Durarara!! zig-zags My Horse Is a Motorbike. Celty's steed really is a (reanimated) horse, but to help fit in, she gives it the appearance of a motorcycle, though the illusion isn't complete, as in it still makes horse sounds and casts the shadow of a horse.
  • Giant Robo does this with a Broken Pedestal. The image of Vogler keeps getting added on with new information from new character left and right, from being a vengeful Mad Scientist to a benevolent scientist. Eventually, it ends with subversion. Too bad Poor Communication Kills.
  • Highschool of the Dead does it in episode 11, when Takashi pins Rei to the bed after she confesses her felings for him. When he doesn't go any further, she asks why he's hesitating (i.e. Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?). He tells her it's because he doesn't know how he should feel about it, since he couldn't tell whether she's being sincere or not. After being assured that she is, he accepts and leans down out of frame, soon followed by the sounds of their lovemaking. But they're forced to stop moments later, because Rei hadn't fully recovered from her back injury.
  • In Kitchen Princess, Sora appears to be a Satellite Love Interest as he seems to fall for Najika off the bat. A side story reveals that he had already run into her and was charmed by her, though she never finds out.Then it turns out he was just ordered to hang out with her so that she could be used in a publicity stunt. However, it was inevitable that he'd develop real feelings for her with all the time he spent with her. Then Sora dies. Not to mention it's also insinuated another reason he wanted to have a relationship with her was so that there would be less chance of his younger brother remembering how their mother died.
  • In Psychic Squad, Wife Husbandry is sent through a blender. Minamoto is absolutely not trying to do this, but The Children want him to (not that they want him to wait that long), everyone else either thinks he's doing this or is trying to get him to do it. Also, according to the future timeline, it's Double Subverted when Minamoto and Kaoru get together despite his best efforts.
  • Pokémon: The Series does this with their Goldfish Poop Gang: Team Rocket quickly goes from being a threat to being a Goldfish Poop Gang. They volley between legitimate threats and harmless nuisances. As of season 14, they are dangerous threats with an Evil Costume Switch. But then they change back to white. Then ghosts suck out their life force, making them goofy for one episode. Then they're back to serious again. And now they're back to being goofy in X & Y.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers does this with the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys trope in it's depiction of France, playing it straight earlier on in the series, but averting it later on. The dub tends to play it straight, though, and England even calls him that in one episode.
  • Shimoneta goes back and forth with the Did You Just Have Sex? trope during the locker-room scene in chapter 10. Tanukichi mistakes Oboro for a member of Gathered Fabric and wrestles her to the floor, causing his foot to be pressed against her pelvic region. It's at that moment that Tanukichi realizes Oboro is actually a male, but he uses his foot to make certain. Ayame walks in on them and sees Oboro pinned on the floor with Tanukichi holding "her" legs open. Made more incriminating since Oboro is seen blushing while his panties were soaked from having experienced his first orgasm. Ayame doesn't say a word, but clearly thinks she's interrupting, so she bolts back out of the room and slams the door behind her!
  • Don't Meddle with My Daughter!
    • The I Banged Your Mom trope is initially averted, by having the antagonist (Point Blank), hide it from Clara, rather than use it as an insult. But by the "Amazing Eighth Wonder Vol.1", he's revealed to be her missing father when he reunites with Athenanote  and spends every night making up for lost time. Despite their efforts to keep it down, Clara inherited Athena's super senses, so she can still hear them — and she doesn't take it well.
    • Also done with Virgin Tension. For the majority of the series, Athena's concern was that Clara might have her virginity stolen by pervy male supervillains. It never occurred to her that Clara would choose to give her virginity to them, or that the lucky supervillain would happen to be one of Clara's classmates.
  • HuGtto! Pretty Cure: Both subverted and double subverted with Henri's Career-Ending Injury. His leg condition is foreshadowed to end his career as an ice skater, but ultimately his leg is broken due to an unrelated car accident. Then he gets a Disability-Negating Superpower and performs one final skating performance. However the superpower doesn't last and he is seen in a wheelchair after that.
  • YuYu Hakusho Does this with The "Fun" in "Funeral". Yusuke attends his own funeral as a ghost. To his disgust, he finds that some of his classmates are laughing and smiling, causing him to think that they only came just to get extra credit. Then he sees Keiko crying over his death, and Kuwabara mourning over his death and commenting that he was supposed to be there for him. Then he notices Iwamoto and Akash, who seem to be rather glad that he was already dead. But Mr. Takanaka confronts the two, and proceeds inside their house. He follows him, and seems to be a little bit surprised to see the teacher mourn over his death. He also sees his mother, also doing the same. The kid whom he saved is also there with his mother, and as they leave the kid tells his mother that he was really a nice guy even though some people there were angry at him. Seeing how much he's missed by his childhood friend Keiko, his mother, his rival Kuwabara, and his homeroom teacher gives him the resolve necessary to go through some difficult ordeals to get himself resurrected.
  • EDENS ZERO does this to Even Evil Can Be Loved. Shura is such a cruel and sadistic bastard that Ijuna, his Sexy Secretary and the one person in the cosmos who cares for him, is only able to do so because she experienced A Match Made in Stockholm after countless days of Cold-Blooded Torture at his hands, realizing how much neglect and loneliness he endured under his father to twist him into the monster he is now. When it turns out that she unknowingly brainwashed herself into thinking Shura is her One True Love, she's promptly freed and able to return to the people who truly care for her. Except she abandons them all and returns to Shura, whom she realizes made her into his secretary because her false love for him sparked genuine feelings for her. This ultimately humanizes Shura and leads Ijuna to fall in love with him for real...which would never have happened if the entire experience didn't already drive her as hopelessly insane as he is, even without the brainwashing.

    Comic Books 
  • Birds of Prey
    • Does this with The Boxing Episode. The cover of issue 106 is done in the style of a boxing poster promoting a bout between Big Barda and Knockout, but the actual story doesn't involve the sport at all. Punching, on the other hand, is very much present.
    • Does this with Good Old Fisticuffs. When Huntress and Lady Shiva square off in a fight to the death. Even though she never expects to actually win, Huntress plans to at least injure Shiva by getting close and brawling with her instead of fighting at a proper distance with a refined style. Her logic is that, though Shiva has spent years dueling the most refined and skilled martial artists in the world, Huntress is a street fighter and understands how to get up close and personal in a fight. Huntress does manage a single knockdown on Shiva, but gets beaten into hamburger to do so. Shiva remains unscathed.
  • Dynamo5 Does this with Asshole Victim. The more we learn about Captain Dynamo/William Warner, one of the world's greatest heroes, the more despicable he appears to be. It is revealed that he was a habitual womanizer who cheated on his wife, Maddie Warner, even when it compromised his crime-fighting duties. He also was not above using his shape shifting power to impersonate married women's husbands in order to sleep with them. He had an affair with one of his enemies, a supervillain named Chrysalis, and had a daughter with her named Cynthia, and led a second life to help raise her. The worst thing he did was when he fathered a child with an alien woman that he had met in outer space, after coming to the aid of her malfunctioning starship. When the mother gives him the child because she can't raise him herself, he leaves the infant at a F.L.A.G. research facility, where the child grows up without parents. When one of the scientists bonds with the child and begs Captain Dynamo to free him, Captain Dynamo refuses. However, his wife Maddie Warner and best friend Augie Ford still very much respect his memory and miss him, despite learning about his faults. It is implied that Captain Dynamo/William Warner truly did love his wife Maddie Warner and his best friend Augie Ford, and aside from the cheating and womanizing, he took his crime-fighting duties as protector of Tower City seriously.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck gives us the best example of two tropes zig-zagging each other; in this case, Slap-Slap-Kiss and Kiss-Kiss-Slap. In "The Prisoner of White Agony Creek", Scrooge McDuck and Goldie O'Glit end up arguing in a cabin. Suddenly, Goldie kisses Scrooge, cashing in on a volume worth of Belligerent Sexual Tension. She then promptly punches him across the room. They practically tear the cabin apart, but then everything goes quiet for several hours. Some members of the posse following them think they killed each other, but the Genre Savvy Roy Bean knows better.

  • I Want A Refund, Kuno has forbidden anyone to date Nabiki Tendo. Nabiki invokes an inverted "I'll do anything" offer to any boy that defeats Kuno- secure in the knowledge that he will successfully defeat all the other boys in school (since Ranma isn't fighting). Kuno manages to defeat himself, and what follows is a Triple subversion of the "I'll do anything" trope- maybe even quadruple, or quintuple depending on your perspective.
  • Kyon: Big Damn Hero does this with Recurring Dreams: Kanae's favorite dream is kissing her sempai at the beach and magically teleporting to a shadowy wooded glade surrounded by bunnies and flowers. The dream isn't psychic or precognitive but events happen so her sempai is in a very similar position to the start of her dream. With Kanae sightly dazed (enough to realize the differences on her usual dream but not enough to realize she's awake, It Makes Sense in Context) she kisses her sempai for the first time, everybody watching.
  • A Charmed Life does this with Heel Realization: Light comes to realize he'd been acting like an asshole when it comes to the way he was treating Ryuk and works to make amends but he finds nothing wrong with being Kira of course. It also does this with the trope Becoming the Mask when Light decides to play the role of "a naïve little boy playing with things he doesn't fully understand" but in many ways (such as his being a Wide-Eyed Idealist Psychopathic Manchild and messing with Shinigami who play by rules he does not fully understand) that is exactly what he is but Light himself is too deluded to realize it.
  • Courtney's Crusade for Redemption does this with I Know Mortal Kombat. With Sam; for the boxing challenge, everyone tells him that just because he's good at playing Punch-Out!! doesn't make him a good fighter, and, luckily for him, he doesn't need to find out. Later, it turns out that being a great Mario Kart player makes him very good at boat-racing.
  • Captains Crash does this with Steampunk. Launchpad's Curtiss JN-4, or "Jenny"; a steam-powered biplane. It flies — and in fact, there were real-world experiments into steam-powered aircraft from the 1840s till the 1960s — but it's noted that it's very inefficient in terms of its power-to-weight ratio, which is the reason why the technology never got anywhere on Earth.
  • Down And Out does this with Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse. When The Cat visits the Mall Car to see Simon, Grace lies, saying that Simon died, before blaming the feline for his downward spiral and demise. When The Cat points out it isn't fair that she should get all the blame when Grace also played a role, Grace responds that while neither of them are responsible for how Simon responded to his trauma, The Cat is still the source of said trauma.
  • Unbreakable Red Silken Thread does this with Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. In public Scarlett is a quiet girl, but at her job she let her jerkass side show.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Lion King (1994) zigzags Amazing Technicolor Wildlife. Most of the animals are naturally-colored, but the male lions are either bright yellow with blood red manes or dark brown with black manes. The I Just Can't Wait to Be King musical number plays this trope straight though.
  • ParaNorman: Does this with Spirit Advisor. Played straight with Norman's grandmother, who advises and loves him after death just as she did while alive. Subverted with most other ghosts, including Mr. Prenderghast, who are too wrapped up in their own obsessions to offer much useful guidance. Inverted with Norman and Aggie, as he is a living person trying to help guide a spirit.
  • The third act of Turning Red, zigzags Shock-and-Switch Ending. Mei makes it to the 4*Town concert, but is rejected by her friends, but then they accept her again, but then the concert is interrupted by her mother, but the band is able to continue to sing which as a bonus helps save the day.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Heroic Second Wind has a rather peculiar level of heavy subversion in The Matrix Revolutions: After Smith delivers a truly exemplary Straw Nihilist speech, he asks the beaten Neo why the hell he even bothers to keep fighting. Neo stands and says, "Because I choose to." Cue asskicking, trope subversion as Smith rejuvenates and beats Neo to a pulp again, double subversion as Neo gets up again, triple subversion as Smith manages to infect Neo, and finally quadruple subversion as Neo uses his defeat to provide a link between Smith and the computer that created him, allowing it to simply delete him.
  • The Bad Guy Wins becomes rather a Zig Zagging Trope in Murder on the Orient Express (1974). In the traditional way of viewing murder mysteries the "bad guy" is the committer or committers of the in-film murder, but the murder victim was himself a horrendous monster and mafioso who was killed only because he escaped justice by due process of law for his crimes, and a large part of the story involves the central dilemma caused by Poirot being after the murderer/murderers of a man who so obviously had it coming to him and was clearly the worst guy amongst all the characters of the story ethically. When Poirot figures out whodunnit, he lets the guilty parties literally get away with murder, allowing them to win in the sense of escaping justice even though they've lost in the sense of failing to succeed at their plot of deceiving him — although in a sense they won to begin with just by succeeding at their plot to murder Ratchett at all, which is what they were there for in the first place. If you go by defining the bad guy literally as the most morally degraded character in the story, then Ratchett alternately loses in the sense of ending up a murder victim himself, wins in the sense that his murderer(s) cannot murder him without getting caught, and he loses again in that the murderer(s) get(s) away with it anyhow. And had won long ago at escaping the law itself in the first place to begin with, at which his success technically remains permanent.
  • Watching the Detectives zigzags quite frequently between Deconstruction and Reconstruction while playing tropes like a drum. It's better to just give up trying to analyze it and enjoy the dreamy blue eyes.
  • Men Don't Cry is thrown into a Tornado when it comes to The Wizard of Oz. The Tin Man can cry, and even does so on several occasions, but is advised against it and it ends negatively for him, as he rusts when it happens. The Cowardly Lion also cries several times out of fear, and while he isn't human, he is genuinely courageous in the sense that when he has a good reason to, he does things even though he is afraid. The meaning of the trope is also challenged a bit when it comes to them; do they count as subversions because they are male characters who cry? Or are they playing it straight due to the negative In-Universe connotations they have for crying?
  • America Saves the Day zigzags in Pacific Rim. The American Jaeger Gipsy Danger scores the deciding blow, with an American at the helm, but only succeeds with the help of a Japanese co-pilot and with the way cleared by an Australian and a Briton, a multinational operation. But the Chinese and Russian teams are taken out early on.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, Lonely Funeral gets a little twisted when only four people attend Bruce Wayne's funeral but the entire city honours Batman's sacrifice.
  • The Scream series zig-zags mutliple tropes:
    • Silent Antagonist: While Ghostface never talks while on screen, they do threaten their victim by phone calls. Justified as they need a voice changer to hide their identity.
    • Joker Immunity: While Ghostface comes back every movie like any slasher film villain, they do in fact die for good at the end of each film. The new Ghostface is actually a different person every time taking the identity.
    • Villain-Based Franchise: Even though the franchise's identity is build around its titular antagonist Ghostface, they're actually a different villain everytime, while the protagonists are the same for the whole series.
  • The Charlie Chan zig-zags Yellowface. On the one hand, the main character was played by Swedish-born American actor Warner Oland, who was certainly not Chinese. On the other hand, Oland never used yellowface makeup or effects to change his appearance for the role, as it was felt his natural features sufficiently passed for Asian (he claimed some Mongolian ancestry on his mother's side). Most of the supporting roles also featured Asian or Asian-American actors as appropriate. Some aspects of the character are considered stereotypical by today's standards, but Oland took his role seriously and regarded it as an antiracist statement, even visiting China for research and learning to speak Cantonese.

  • Asshole Victim is toyed with in Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun, where the murder victim qualifies under reasons two (to allow the murderer to be sympathetic) and three (it maximizes the number of possible suspects) . . . because he was the perfect embodiment of the planet's social code ("a good Solarian"), that is, an anti-social a-hole. Everyone had a motive to murder the man who reminded them all of their imperfections, and in the end Elijah Baley decides to sit on the knowledge of who murdered the victim.
  • The Mole is played with in the Harry Potter books with Snape. As in, the main characters have thought (and therefore the reader thinks) that he was every single sub-trope of this at some point, until finally he just becomes ambiguous. It was played straight to begin with, then inverted to become The Mole for the other side, then the main characters thought he was just duping Dumbledore and can't be trusted, and then the inverse of that, etc, etc. That is, up until The Reveal, where it's established that he's just doing it for Lily Potter.
  • The entire point of the Tom Holt novel Falling Sideways. The description of the backstory of the major players is revised, revisited and completely contradicted every two or three chapters, and keeping track of all the lies (and trying to fit it into the events of the book) becomes a big brain-hurting exercise. It doesn't help that, at the end, there's still plenty of huge Plot Holes.
  • The Wheel of Time zigzags Kissing Cousins in one chapter, when Rand is researching his family tree, trying to figure out if he is related to Elayne Trakand, his lover, and receives a lot of confusing and slightly contradictory evidence resulted in the trope going from seemingly played straight, to subverted, to "sort of true." Elayne is indeed Rand's cousin, but only a very distant one. They descend from the same bloodline, but are not close enough to be considered really related.
    • Except that he doesn't know his mother was actually much more closely related. We think anyway.
      • They are very distant cousins... who share a half brother, by way of Rand's mom and Elayne's dad.
  • The Hunger Games zigzags There Can Be Only One: The premise is that the last survivor wins. With only a few competitors left, the Capitol makes an announcement that if the last two survivors are from the same district, they will be co-winners. Katniss and Peeta become the last two survivors, but the Capitol lied, and there will only be one winner after all. They decide to commit double suicide rather than attempt to kill each other, and the Capitol backs down, deciding that having two winners is better than not having any.
    • In the second book, there's even more play on the trope- Katniss is sure that there can only be one winner this time, but then five of the tributes are rescued from the arena.
  • Lisanne Norman's Sholan Alliance series does this with Luke, I Am Your Father. It's mostly an inversion, but...
    • To whit: Mara has a mate. She is also pregnant. Her mate is not the father. Half a chapter is devoted to finding daddy.
    • Played with for Kaid and his son, Dzaka.
  • Candle by John Barnes does something to Shades of Conflict, as one reveal after another changes the apparent shade of the conflict. In order: Black-and-White Morality (One True is good, the last rebel raped a little girl for the fun of it), Black-and-Gray Morality or Evil Versus Evil (One True is solely concerned with propagating itself, but the representative of it who serves as the main character is only partially controlled and is a Well-Intentioned Extremist), White-and-Grey Morality or a reversed Black-and-White Morality (One True lied about the rebel, and he's actually a good guy), Grey-and-Grey Morality or Evil Versus Evil again (the rebel is the last survivor of a benevolent Hive Mind founded to protect humanity from One True and its like, but it jumped off the slippery slope and now what remains of it forces him to convert more people, just like One True), and finally Rousseau Was Right (the rebel himself is still an idealist, and One True is willing to learn from his example, voluntarily splitting itself into bits and becoming more of a Mental Fusion. The sequel takes it another step: One True is trying to be good, but is still driven to propagate itself, and may or may not have killed thousands of people so it could assimilate the rest into its "benevolent" control.
  • Discworld absolutely lives for zig-zagging tropes. Throughout the series and in many different stories, tropes like Sufficiently Analyzed Magic and Anthropomorphic Personification are taken to pieces, reconstructed, subverted, and lampshaded in dozens of different contexts, to the point that the books can arguably be looked at as a kind of massive, meta-analysis of their ideas.
    • Monstrous Regiment zig-zags Modern Major General Blouse's Ping Pong Naïveté. Is he really that stupid? No, he turns out to be a genius about certain things. Then he reverts right back to useless officer, and back to smart... and back.
    • As well as this trope, Monstrous Regiment zigzags Sweet Polly Oliver, when it starts applying to every single character. Except Blouse. Who, when they have to disguise as women, suggests that he be the one who does it, as the "boys" would clearly fail. He does get into the stronghold unhindered, while the regiment are so used to boyish mannerisms at that point that one of them has to lift her skirt in order to prove that she indeed is a girl.
  • Umberto Eco's approach to Death of the Author tends toward this, as demonstrated by The Limits Of Interpretation.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplight's Prospero's Daughter trilogy, Miranda sees Ferdinard, her New Old Flame, again after centuries, and he actually has an explanation for why (despite Shakespeare) he didn't turn up for their wedding. Except that it's not him. But the person disguised as him is someone else who has a romantic link to her the past. Except that when she brings them up to him, he jeers at the very notion of love between someone of her species and his.
  • Överenskommelser by Simona Ahrnstedt:
    • Death by Childbirth: This trope was played straigh with Beatrice's mother, who really did die from childbirth. But it's later subverted with Sofia, who is lucky enough though to survive despite getting ecclampsia.
    • Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't: averted with Sofia, who is Beatrice's cousin and one of her best friends, but it's played straight with with her uncle Vilhelm and her other cousin Edvard, who are just evil abusive sociopaths.
  • The Tragic Bromance is played with in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Trull Sengar and Ahlrada Ahn share all the trappings of the trope, including deeply respecting and admiring each other and Ahlrada dying in Trull's arms after switching sides in the midst of a battle and begging Trull's forgiveness. Ahlrada is wracked by guilt over Trull's banishment. Except they're not actually friends. They ought to be, both know that and both wish they could be, but Ahlrada is a mole and deathly afraid of being found out and Trull is no good at reading social cues. It's the serie's greatest bromance that never happens, even though from start to finish it plays out as one.

    Live-Action TV 
  • iCarly with its lack of continuity and Rule of Funny taking precedence does this with a few tropes, but one of the more obvious and repeated tropes Zig Zagged is Shipper on Deck:
    • Mrs. Benson in the first and second seasons is clearly a Carly/Freddie shipper, going so far as to ask Carly "Why won't you love my son!" In Season 3 she Zig Zagged into an anti-Carly/Freddie shipper, blaming Carly for Freddie getting hit by the truck in iSaved Your Life, for Freddie deciding to move out during iMove Out and basically blaming him for Freddie hitting puberty:
      Mrs. Benson: You're the one who got Freddie interested in girls, and ever since then his boy chemistry's been all out of whack.
    • Sam's actions in iSaved Your Life and iStart A Fan War show that she doesn't seem to mind the idea of Carly and Freddie together as long as it's for the right reasons. Then she Zig Zagged later, when she kisses Freddie in iOMG it's clear she wants Freddie for herself, and any previous acceptance of Carly/Freddie is replaced by her own feelings for Freddie.
    • As a result of the above actions, Carly appears as a Shipper on Deck in the first Sam/Freddie episode iLose My Mind, cheerleading for Sam and Freddie to get together, asking the audience about it and generally acting extremely happy about the situation. Then in the next episode iDate Sam And Freddie she's Zig Zagged by being caught in the middle of their fights, telling them that they shouldn't be together because they can't sort their own problems out.
  • Steve Urkel from Family Matters ended up zig-zagging Unpopular Popular Character. He played it straight at first, when the fans loved him and most of the other characters on the show (which included his own parents) did not like him. But as the years went by and Steve went through a plenty of Flanderization, more and more viewers started to look at him in a less sympathetic light.


    Newspaper Comics 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Traveller: Planet Ville. A planet does not have to be a planetville. Many planets are large and complex societies and some have mini-sourcebooks about them. On the other hand PCs when travelling through the stars often don't see more than the starport. On the other hand, a whole campaign can be set on a single planet. On the other hand some planets are almost virgin worlds with no more than a small outpost on them, whose population may be that of a small town or even a village.
  • Zombicide: Walker, Fattie zombies and the Abomination walk slowly. Runner zombies are Elite Zombie who, well... Run.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Combat zig zags around So Last Season with its starter planes; some games have better starter planes than later ones, but the current latest one, Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation also has a better starter plane that some games before it. See the trope page for the full rundown.
  • Frontlines: Fuel of War zig zags with Bag of Spilling: Each mission comes in two halves, and you keep all of your gear if you die... But when the second half of the level loads you're suddenly stuck with a regular weapon set and none of the collected gear from the first section.
  • Jeanne d'Arc actually managed to pull this off with the Doomed by Canon Trope. In real life, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake but in the game, she was previous Not Quite Dead, so her best friend Liane was actually posing as her for a portion of the game. Liane instead was captured and burned at the stake since she had been masquerading as Joan and everyone believed her to be the true Joan. For extra irony, Joan herself appears on the scene moments after.
  • Life Is Strange repeatedly goes back 'n forth with the Oblivious to Love trope, regarding Warren's crush on Max. She seems genuinely unaware of his feelings for her for most of the game. Yet, when any of her friends raises the subject, she replies that she already knows, only to then turn around and seemingly forget several scenes later. This culminates in the scene at the diner in episode 5 where Warren starts to tell Max directly, but she again interjects that she's known all along.
  • Mega Man X8: Bamboo Pandemonium zigzags between Angrish and saying a coherent "It's all over!" when he Turns Red.
  • Portal 2 does this with Boss-Arena Idiocy. In the course of a few short minutes, the Final Boss of the game defies it, plays it straight, subverts it, and double subverts it. The subversion is itself set up with a justification earlier in the game: there are elements of the mainframe room that are not under the control of the supervisory AI. This does not, however, prevent it from setting traps.
  • NetHack has a triple subversion of Useless Useful Spell. The game has an instant death spell (and wand that contains the spell in consumable form) that's Too Awesome to Use against regular enemies. However, the list of things immune to it is "everything that's already dead", which, in the first subversion, does not include all the bosses (it's about half; as an extreme example, two of the three endgame bosses are vulnerable to it, one is immune). However, the most powerful bosses (that are vulnerable to it) will simply respawn, making it much less powerful against them than you'd expect. However, it's still the most effective weapon to use against them anyway...
  • King's Quest IV and King's Quest VII do this for Standard Hero Reward. Subverted, gender inverted, played straight, subverted another two times, gender flipped again... in the end, Edgar and Rosella agree to a proper courtship. The The Silver Lining Fan Sequel and the Telltale Games sequel show that they are still together.
  • The Fire Emblem Elibe duology does this to Lamarck Was Right: Played straight with Lou and Ray's magical ability (inherited from Nino), Eliwood's and Hector's ability to wield Durandal and Armads, respectively; inverted with Zephiel's (and nobody else's) ability to wield Eckesachs; subverted with Hector's and Lyn's inability to wield Durandal in Blazing Blade and with everybody's (if they have the appropriate skill in swords) ability to wield Durandal in Binding Blade. Also subverted with Lilina's magical ability, as neither Hector nor his wife were able to use magic.
  • Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories pulls this off right at the very beginning, and relating to the game's major plot-twist. In order to lift a curse cast on their world, the heroes try a magic spell to summon the demon responsible, Overlord Zenon, but it was seemingly botched, and they instead get Zenon's spoiled daughter, Rozalin. Then comes the major twist, revealed at the end of the game, that Rozalin is Zenon as a Reincarnation, and her father (who isn't even biologically related to her) is just a poser who took on the name just to spite her. The heroes did succeed in summoning Zenon after all; however, it was still the Fake Zenon that they were after, since he's the one who cast the curse, so in a way the summoning ritual still failed.

    Web Animation 
  • White Hair, Black Heart- Xtale Chara has white hair and is a complete arsehole in season 1, torturing and killing everyone around him for getting petty revenge on his abusive father, regardless of whether they deserved it or not. The X-Tale series shows this is a recent development, as he was a much more heroic and kind person before X-Gaster broke him.

  • Look under "Fan-Preferred Couple" for El Goonish Shive. The trope is set up when an alternate love interest for Elliott is introduced in the form of Nanase, subverted when they turn out to actually be a couple, double subverted when she breaks it off because there's no spark, and then triple subverted when Ellen/Nanase becomes canon. Triple-subversions are extremely hard to do, but the trope isn't being subverted as much as being a straight playing of Will They or Won't They?.
    • This is done with Long-Lost Relative in regards to Susan and Diane's relationship to each other.
  • Darths & Droids do this with Not the Fall That Kills You…. More complex than you thought.
  • Sivo in Gunnerkrigg Court is a triple subversion of the "Knight vs. Dragon" story.note 
    • This comes close to quadruple-subversion level, though only time will tell: Reynardine is now under Annie's control, and as Annie learns more and more about him, he appears to be far more sympathetic and far less the demon that Eglamore believed.
      • Probably already counts as a quadruple subversion, after in #109 Eglamore requested to turn Reynardine over and Antimony refused and offered a good rebuff, so the situation essentially turned into "the Fair Maiden saves the [ex-] Dragon from the Knight".
      • Tom zigzagged the Ship Tease in chapter 34 where it looks like Annie and Jack flirt with each other well, in contrast to their previous awkward interaction in chapter 31. They have an apparently sweet moment in a balcony, which leads to her saying she doesn't like him when it looks like they're about to kiss. Then he sighs in relief and declares a crush on Zimmy. She gets pissed off, and he gives her "The Reason You Suck" Speech. He then cracks a joke, and she agrees with the joke and concedes to his calling her out. It finally ends in a relatively sweet moment which leads her to offering him an actual kiss. He turns her down gently and they're shown hugging at the end.
  • Randomly point a finger, with eyes closed, somewhere on the Fate and Prophecy Tropes page, and you're likely to find something in Digger that's addressed in this manner.
  • The Order of the Stick does this with Always Chaotic Evil. Subverted, inverted, averted, double-subverted, and ultimately deconstructed. And just occasionally played straight. It works beautifully.
  • Here is a triple subversion example of Throwing the Distraction from Goblins: the goblins try to distract the Brassmoon City gate guards by throwing a rock, but instead of going to investigate the noise, one of them shouts "Someone's throwing rocks at us from the woods!" However, the guards still go to investigate the place whence the rock was thrown, and start arguing there. Being distracted, they let a couple goblins enter the city (double!). But then, the distraction doesn't last long enough, and the last two goblins are spotted while trying to get in (triple!).
  • The Whiteboard does this regularly with More Dakka, substituting paintballs for real bullets. LOTS of paintballs.
  • In Nedroid, the initial comics had a lot of artistic experimentation, with some comics looking sketchy while others looked gorgeous. As time went on, the comic eventually focused on a simple, but polished art style. It's two cases of Art Evolution while simultaneously being two cases of Art Decay.
  • This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal panel is a textbook example of screwing with the reader's expectation so many times it makes you dizzy. The webcomic in question loves this trope.
  • Jack zigzags Parental Abandonment with Fnar, an innocent unborn, who has two dead parents - both reside in Hell like he does. He is mainly kept away from them, since Mama's stuck in a dangerous place, and Papa is just dangerous. Later on the trope gets twisted further: Papa finds him and to some degree abuses him as a means to get to his de facto guardian, after which Fnar is separated from both Mama and Papa as he is given another chance at life. Except that not all so, because Papa is a Sin and able to visit the world of the living...
  • In Tales of the Questor, Ralph Hayes has loads of fun with Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Subversion 1: Quentyn is careful what he wishes for, very carefully wording his wishes so that his Fae Lord enemy has no loopholes to wiggle through.
    • Subversion 2: Later, he convinces himself that he wished for the wrong things—that he should have used them to bring back the artifacts he's looking for.
    • Subversion 3: He's told that his wishes were the most damaging things he could possibly have asked a Fae Lord for All debts and favors cancelled, everything stolen returned to the duchy, and barred from hunting the world again—and what he thought he should have wished for would not have worked as he thought.
    • And before all this mess, Ralph plays it completely straight when Rahan wishes he could get a good look at Quentyn's face when their booby trap involving tar and feathers springs. After Squidge spooks them, causing the whole prank to epically backfire, he gets his wish—he sees Quentyn busting a gut at him. It comes complete with Lampshade.
  • Sequential Art had fun with 5C4RL37 and her sisters building a Humongous Mecha, because it's clearly the best way to stop a giant bug. Then they got carried away and due to a scaling error made what on the next page became a Powered Armor. Then liked it and made more. But later built one Mini-Mecha anyway, as a carrier for "Soopa Soots".
  • Allen the Alien is another case of Art Evolution zigzagged. Early in its run, it kept varying between quality. Now the art design gets better, but the style gets uglier

    Web Original 
  • In part one of Kickassia, Godwin's Law is both played straight and inverted in the very same sentence.
    Nostalgia Critic: "So are you a nazi, or a NAZIIIIIIII?"
  • Alice and Bob zigzags Said Bookism in chapter 2, with attempts at avoiding "said" and then just settling on that word.
  • This Tumblr post:
    poor old granny scorpion-shoes. no one ever saw her death coming

    it was pneumonia.

    yes, her pet scorpion pneumonia, who lived in her shoe. tragic.

    he shot her point blank

    Western Animation 
  • Aladdin: The Series
    • Has a female genie called Eden, who is also benevolent. Unlike Genie however, she's wise enough to become a Literal Genie when dealing with Jerkass Abis Mal. When the villain wishes Genie imprisoned in the bottom of the ocean, she gives him an escape hatch because Mal didn't say forever. When Mal wished to become the biggest and strongest being in the world, she included a method of relieving him of his power; and when the little girl who finds her wishes for everything to be all right, she turns Abis Mal into a bug as a "freebie". She also went out of her way to encourage the little homeless girl to come up with better wishes; when the girl wished for a sandwich, she convinced her to wish for a lifetime supply of food instead.
    • Does that with the Magic Is Evil trope. Magic as a concept didn't seem evil, as there were plenty of benign creatures who used it (Like Genie, obviously). Wizards, on the other hand... Suffice to say that if there were any who weren't evil, the heroes never met any (And it took a couple of averted disasters that resulted from trusting them to finally figure this out).
  • One episode of American Dad! features a new guy in the neighborhood; one Stan instantly recognizes as an ex-KGB agent, one of their top guys in fact, with who he had several previous run-ins. He's convinced that the agent is here to destroy America, but everything points to him just wanting to live a good life post-USSR-breakup. Several pieces of seemingly damning evidence are piled up, but then they're all reasonably explained away. It seems for the entire first half of the show, Stan is just being put up as a bigot who can't let go of old rivalries; then it turns out the KGB agent actually is there for nefarious purposes, not to destroy America (in fact he does kind of like it here) but specifically to turn Stan's son Steve into a Communist as revenge against Stan. Even after admitting it to his face, Stan still can't get others to believe him for a while due to his previous paranoia.
  • Glitch Techs: Does this with Pac Man Fever. The first game that the main characters are seen playing in the series is a VR action title, and the creatures they face as Glitch Techs run the gamut across all generations of gaming, from 8-bit sprites to 3D models. The soundtrack and various sound effects wouldn't be out of place in an arcade, however.
  • Men in Black: The Series plays with the What Measure Is a Non-Cute? to a somewhat confusing degree in "The Buzzard Syndrome": An alien comes to Earth hunting another alien, so it's Space Policeman hunting Dangerous Killer. Then the lies are exposed, and it seems to be Heartless Bounty Hunter hunting Cute Alien. Then it turns out that the cute alien is a killer, so it's Heartless Bounty Hunter hunting Cute Dangerous Killer. Bit hard to keep track of the lies.
  • The Simpsons:
  • Futurama triple subverts A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted. Zoidberg bets all his money on a roulette game, and actually wins. He then is compelled to repeat this, and lightning manages to strike twice. Naturally, he does this a third time. Guess what happens.
  • Wander over Yonder does this to the Batman Can Breathe in Space trope. How well characters fare in outer space range from nearly dying to doing perfectly fine despite there being no atmosphere. It really all depends upon what best suits the plot at the moment.
  • Rick and Morty:
    • Does this with the Aloof Big Sister trope. Summer goes back and forth on this. Earlier on, she was much closer to being actually aloof and uncaring about Morty. But as the show went on, she's become closer to Morty and cares about him, even if she doesn't always show it.
    • Does this with the Big Sister Bully trope. Summer doesn't actively pick on Morty, mostly because neither one speaks to each other. At one point she groin kicks him for what at first seems like a very flippant reason— but it turns out she thought he went in her room. It still appears to be an overreaction ... until it is revealed a minute later in the episode that Morty masturbates in EVERY room in the house. Even so, they do care for each other.
    • Does this with the Determinator trope. Nothing stops Rick once he sets his mind to it...unless he just stops caring.
    • Does this with the Cyborg trope. According to "The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy", Rick's body (or at least the body he currently has) contains a lot of advanced cybernetics. It's never said whether his original body was this, though it'd admittedly explain a lot of his unnatural strength. "Rest and Ricklaxation" resulted in Rick's body being killed off by Toxic Rick, but his quick thinking allowed him to grow a new body out of Toxic Rick himself, which brought him back to full human, but then he gets his right arm ripped off in "The ABCs of Beth", but has a replacement robotic arm ready to immediately replace it. Within the same episode, he's already grown back his organic arm.
    • Does that with the Lack of Empathy trope. Rick Sanchez empathy is always questionable, but never abundant even at the best of times. If you aren't his family, Birdperson, Squanchy, Unity, Mr. Poopybutthole or a select few other characters, he likely doesn't regard you in any meaningful way. But even to those characters, mainly his family, Rick has been known to treat them poorly, or with indifference. While it is rarely outright stated, the implied reason for Rick's lack of empathy is the horrible things he has seen on his adventures and his realization that every decision they make is ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of the multiverse (although, it's implied that he's simply using that as an excuse to justify his actions). Also, Rick doesn't see it as worth the effort to bond with any particular version of his family, since they can be interchanged with any other of the infinite versions of them that exist just one portal-gun trip away. Though he seems to love his family, he still views them as interchangeable.
  • Star Wars Rebels Does this with the Would Not Shoot a Civilian trope. In Alexsandr Kallus eyes, you're not a civilian if you're a rebel sympathizer in any shape or form, which includes being helped by the rebels rather than you helping them. He has no problem arresting the citizens of Tarkintown and burning it down or starving a planet to lure rebels into a trap. However, "Steps Into Shadow" has Kallus comment disapprovingly that more civilians than rebels were killed in Thrawn's victory at the Battle of Batonn.
  • The Owl House: Does this with the Aesop Amnesia trope. Luz wants to be able to do magic more then anything, but her impatience leads to her always trying to skip past the boring learning part, which always ends in disaster. Yet, time and again, she goes back to looking for a shortcut instead of realizing that, for her to really do magic, she needs to learn the old-fashioned way by just studying and slowly growing her talents. On the other hand, she and Eda are making up her education regiment as they go along since she lacks a magic bile sac and Eda can't see the glyphs that Luz can. It's natural that Luz keeps trying to see if the next adventure has the answer.
  • Danger Mouse: Does this with the All for Nothing trope. Mac the Fork and Dudley Poyson have built a world-shattering earthquake device from plans stolen from Puttinghamdown Research Centre. Once the device is built, DM studies the blueprints for it and lets the villains try to use it. As DM and Penfold escape and the villains activate the device, the very building they're in (and only the building) comes crumbling to earth over them. DM notes that Colonel K must have spilt his tea on the blueprint, making what was left of it only able to get the device to enable localized quakes. Penfold wonders if he and DM went through all that for nothing, but DM reasons it did put pay to two nasty villains.

    Real Life 
  • In the days of William Shakespeare, all roles in a theater play were played by men or boys. This includes the female roles, so you had guys dressing up as girls, so you get Dude Looks Like a Lady. Which makes for a very interesting time when this guy is playing Rosalind from As You Like It, Portia from The Merchant of Venice, Julia from Two Gentlemen of Verona, or Viola from Twelfth Night. All are female roles, but the females disguise themselves as males in their respective plays, producing the reverse trope, Bifauxnen. So you end up with a guy playing as a girl that's pretending to be a guy: a crossdressing double-cross, one could say. But when a boy played Rosalind, he would take it one step further still - as a boy playing a woman, who disguises herself as a man, who pretends to be herself for her love interest to pretend to court her. The final speech of the play essentially lampshades the whole thing.
  • This newspaper article suggests that a political sex-scandal is going through this. In brief, Gay male mayor, possibly underage male intern. On the one hand, Gay Man Child Predator is a very old and damaging trope, on the other hand Hot for Student suggests that we don't think of a young male was 'taken advantage of' but maybe even 'got lucky'. By contrast, old guy - young girl is seen as more 'appreciable' but much more often 'predatory'. Furthermore, gay men are 'expected' to be secretive about their sex lives for some because of privacy, for some because of leeway for a frowned-upon sexuality, and for some because of Brain Bleach.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Zig Zagged, Zig Zagged Trope, Dance Trope Dance, Double Reverse Quadruple Subverted, Zig Zags


Simpsons -Quadruple Subversion

Turns out the title of the book is really "How to Cook for Forty Humans"

How well does it match the trope?

4.79 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / ToServeMan

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